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at the Van Cliburn Competition,

MASARO OKADA (Japan), age 26

Masaro Okada

Masaro Okada's slick survey of Schubert's A minor sonata revealed, in under a minute, that here is a pianist whose sell-schooled, technically precise and even musical profile is nothing if not dutiful. The Schubert is the shorter of his two A minor sonatas; it is over in less than 20 minutes. Even so, the 26-year old Mr Okada flew through it, oblivious to its intonational contours and oddly fragmentary motivic ideas, which beg for inflection and shading at virtually every  moment. Mr Okada, impatient with any such notion, eschewed poignance and fantasy in favor of business as usual in performance where one compositional event had no more meaning than any other. In this unexceptional reading, the Tyrolean landscape painted by Schubert became litte more than another  desolate highway amidst the Indiana (or should I say Texas) corn fields.  Nor did his reading of Liszt's transcription of Schubert's evergreen, Erlkönig, fare much better; while Mr. Okada nailed down every octave triplet with ruthless dispatch, he did so consistently within the context of fortissimo, never changing the dynamic landscape for a moment, thus smothering the psychological intensity that lurks beneath and shifts uneasily in the song buried underneath all the figuration. Here Mr Okada was playing to the balcony, perhaps in an effort to impress the jury. How well advised he would be to listen to Lazar Berman's heartbreaking reading, which finds a thousand opportunities for innuendo, affective inflection and above all, quiescence; or Sofronitsky's, a miracle of psychological portraiture in sound.

In Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, the artist in  Mr Okada emerged at last. In Le Gibet, he found and indeed, conveyed the ideal balance between its hypnotic stasis, symbolized so succintly by the persistent syncopated pedal point on B flat, and the woeful melancholy that informs the work's haunting harmonies. Ondine in his hands emerged as something ephemeral and perfectly wrought,   the fluttery opening all ashimmer just as it should be, and  its world of tenuous understatement discerned with discretion. While one could have wished for more radical dynamic contrasts, particularly  en route  to and away from the vociferous climax, Mr Okada's view was nevertheless persuasive, given his impressive command of pianissimo. Scarbo, on the other hand, suffered from such restraint. Taking a whirlwind tempo, as he did, is one thing; but failing to inflect the smaller motivic units that comprise it is quite another. Mr Okada's Scarbo, then, was neither as intense nor demonic as it could have been, and will no doubt become, but too often glib and well groomed.

That said, Mr Okada is certainly one of the Cliburn's strong contenders thus far; given the pragmatic reality of a competition that values mediocrities, he may even stand a chance against Mr Mordasov. But lest I leave any one with the wrong impression, Mr Okada is not mediocre, but a splendid pianist with an imagination, an artist, you might say, still in training who is still looking for his own, individual voice. He came close to finding it in his otherwise captivating and often riveting Gaspard.


Copyright © 31 May 2001 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA




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